How I Became Student Council President
First United Presbyterian Church
“How I Became Student Council President”
Rev. Amy Morgan
February 25, 2018
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.
2 And I will make my covenant between me and you and will make you exceedingly numerous."
3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,
4 "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.
5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.
6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.
7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.
15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,
17 as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations")-- in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become "the father of many nations," according to what was said, "So numerous shall your descendants be."
19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb.
20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,
21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
22 Therefore his faith "was reckoned to him as righteousness."
23 Now the words, "it was reckoned to him," were written not for his sake alone,
24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,
25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
I listened, with increasing dismay, to the speeches of the two other candidates. For the first time in school history, those running for student council president at Covington Middle School had to give a video-recorded speech that would be broadcast to the whole school. The first candidate, a boy in my science class, promised soda machines in the courtyard, longer lunch periods, and more school dances. The second candidate, one of my best friends, promised pizza every day in the lunch line, more pep rallies, and more choices for after-school activities. My speech came last, and I sunk into my chair, cringing.
I hadn’t made any of those kinds of promises. It hadn’t occurred to me to do so. I knew those were things I couldn’t deliver. I knew my classmates probably couldn’t deliver on those promises either, but what did it matter? If people believed them, trusted them, and wanted those things, they would get the vote.
Listening to my speech, I discovered, to my horror, that I had a slight lisp. And I realized I hadn’t promised the student body much. I promised to listen to my classmates and their concerns. I promised to help those concerns be heard by teachers and administrators. I promised to lead with integrity and dedication. I promised a bunch of stuff that middle school students probably didn’t care that much about.
I spent the rest of the day agonizing over my stupidity, certain that I had lost the race. I didn’t even vote for myself. I cast my ballot for my best friend, figuring she was more in touch with what people wanted.
So you can imagine my shock and surprise when, at the end of the school day, the announcement was made that I had won. I would be the 8th grade student council President.
When I shared my amazement with a friend, she told me that, while the other candidates promised great things, she trusted I would, and could, do what I had promised.
This is what faith is. Trusting that God can, and will, do what God promises. The apostle Paul insists that this faith, this trust, is the most essential matter concerning human righteousness.
Paul was writing to the church in Rome at a time of great conflict and factiousness. The Jews, including Jewish Christians, had been expelled from Rome by Emperor Claudius sometime in the middle of the first century. After the order was rescinded, the Jewish Christians returned to find the church in Rome largely populated by Gentile, or non-Jewish, Christians. Many questions and controversies ensued about who the true custodians of the Christian faith should be and what that implied for their religious practice.
Until this point, Jews understood righteousness, meaning right relationship with God, in terms of adherence to the law of God as it was given to Moses and interpreted over the centuries. So those Jews who believed in Jesus saw no reason why this should not still be the way things worked.
Paul argues that the law was never essentially the path to righteousness. He reaches back into Jewish history, to the founding father of the Hebrew people, Abraham, to illustrate the proper relationship between faith and obedience. Before the law ever existed, Paul says, Abraham believed, Abraham had faith, Abraham trusted God to do what God promised.
Now, we know this is a little revisionist history on Paul’s part. Abraham had a child with his concubine, Hagar, because he wasn’t entirely certain God would be able to make his barren wife, Sarah, produce an heir for him. But in service to his sweeping, systematic, theological argument, Paul glosses over that, asserting that No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. But he went ahead with his back-up plan anyway.
The point Paul is trying to make here is that Abraham’s trust, however imperfect it may have actually been, preceded Abraham’s obedience to God. After God makes the promise we heard today, this covenant promise to make Abraham the ancestor of a multitude of nations, then God commands that, as a sign of this covenant, every male should be circumcised.
This is the crux of the argument between the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome. Essentially, the Jewish Christians think that, in order to be considered part of God’s covenant people, the non-Jewish Christians needed to be circumcised. They should probably follow the rest of the law, too, but first, circumcision.
The Gentile Christians are, reasonably, hesitant to follow through with this. And Paul is with them. And not just because adult male circumcision is a daunting proposition.
Paul is fully convinced, and spends most of the book of Romans attempting to convince others, that belief in Jesus Christ, which he defines as trust in God’s promises of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that belief, that trust, that faith, is the only thing that can put us in right relationship with God. In other words, we, like Abraham, need to trust that God can, and will, do what God has promised. We must trust that God will fulfill God’s promises to make all things new, to enable us to live in right relationship with God and one another, and to continue that right relationship eternally. In Jesus Christ, God promises abundant life now and forever.
These are some big promises. It’s a lot to swallow. Belief in these promises requires a lot of trust.
And, as we all know, trust is in short supply these days. Trust in government and politicians is at an all-time low. Institutions and organizations of all sorts, from scouts to libraries to Kiwanis, are struggling to attract support and membership, because people distrust institutions and organizations. The church especially has declined in recent decades due, in large part, to lack of trust.
And while the population generally distrusts the church, the church itself has placed its trust in anything but the promises of God. We have trusted pastors and church leadership and reckoned with corruption, scandal, abandonment, and disfunction. We have trusted our polity and policies and reckoned with an institution that is far outpaced by social change. We have trusted in the church’s members and reckoned with factions, bitterness, and judgement. We have trusted in church growth models promising to fill the pews and the church coffers and reckoned with a consumer product hardly resembles the self-sacrificing ministry of Jesus.
God has made some big promises. God has promised some very unlikely things. Life out of death.
And these promises would be difficult to believe, to trust, if it weren’t for the fact that God has done this, again and again. The whole narrative of our faith is God creating something, everything, out of nothing; a chosen and prosperous people out of oppressed slaves; a great king out of a ruddy shepherd; free and forgiven people out of a sinful, broken and rejected people; a Messiah out of a nobody from nowhere; resurrection out of crucifixion. This is what God does. Something from nothing. Life out of death. If we are paying any attention at all to what God has done and is doing in the world, God’s promises are not all that far-fetched.
What would the world do if the church, and all of us in it, actually started believing these promises, trusting God to do what God has promised? What if, hoping against hope, we could trust?
Instead of trusting in people and policies and plans, if we trusted in the promises of God, we would be watching expectantly for what God is doing here instead of trying to manufacture a palatable religious experience. We would be participating in God’s activity, filled with enthusiasm instead of anxiety. We would have an abundance mindset, trusting God has enough grace and power, goodness and wisdom to work God’s loving purposes out. And we’d be so filled with this good news, this promise that we trust and believe in, that we’d have to share it. When we get engaged or find out we’re pregnant or win an award or plan an exciting trip – we announce it on Facebook, we talk about it with people. God’s promise to bring life out of death is at least as good as all that, and so if we trusted that promise, we’d have to share about it.
Church, keep your suspicions of institutions, government, organizations, politicians. They aren’t worthy of our trust. God. Is.
This church is not an institution that trusts in things that will fail us. We are a church, and people, who trust in the promises of God. We are a church, and people, who witness God at work in the stories of our scriptures, in the history of our world, and in the lives we live every day. We are a church, and people, who strive to enthusiastically participate in the activity of God. We are a church, and people, who are ready to share this great good news we have received.
God has made us a promise in raising Jesus from the dead. Life out of death. Everything out of nothing. Grace. Forgiveness. Abundant life now and forever. This is a big promise. Even if we are hoping against hope, let us be fully convinced God can, and will, do what God has promised. And, sharing the faith of Abraham, it will be reckoned to us as righteousness. Amen.